Your Survival Guide To Flying Solo As A Freelance Type Designer In 2021

Going freelance sounds dreamy to some, terrifying to others. As a freelance type designer, being able to carve out your own schedule, have more control over the projects you take on, decide on your own prices and put into place your own systems definitely has massive pros. But, on the flip side, knowing where to start can be extremely overwhelming—especially as a creative, when the work you’re putting out is so personal, and so connected to years of thought, practice and self development. Of course, there’s a lot at stake going freelance whatever it is you do, but when it comes navigating freelancing as a solo type designer—from brand communications to pricing systems, staying motivated to getting enough down time—it can seem there’s a lot to juggle.

Type by freelance type designer Jazlyn Fung
Type by Jazlyn Fung

Knowing how equally exciting yet overwhelming this prospect can be, we decided to put together a guide to help you on your type journey. With insights from incredible freelance type designers Jo Malinis, Anne-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess), Doménico Barreto, Bouk Ra and Jazlyn Fung, this guide will provide you with the useful advice, thoughtful reflections and practice-based tips you need to help kick-start your freelance type design career. Whether you’re elevating your side hustle into a full time gig, interested in getting some ideas to up your game, or simply looking for a glimpse into the life of a freelance type designer, this roundup of advice from some of our favourite industry professionals will help you along the way…

Type by Bouk Ra

Find A Community, But Keep It Balanced.

The joy of community came up over and over again, whether that be getting creative inspiration from other designers on Instagram, or just enjoying good company during a busy day working from home. When asked what brings joy to her work days, Paris-based Art Director and Type Designer Anne-Dauphine Borione (AKA Daytona Mess) said while the perfect desk setup is pretty great, it’s mostly down to music, and the communities she’s part of. Similarly, Lima-based Graphic and Type Designer Doménico Barreto noted it can be super helpful motivation-wise to work on FaceTime calls with friends, while Sydney/Hong Kong-based Typography & Graphic Designer Jazlyn Fung added, “Because of the pandemic, I have been trying to use my work to connect with people,” continuing, “I didn’t expect there to be so much positive feedback from designers/media in different countries. Sharing ideas and supporting each designer brings me a lot of joy, and keeps me passionate about creating more works to share with people.”

Hook Display by freelance type designer Jo Malinis
Hook Display by Jo Malinis

However, particularly in terms of social media, our designers were quick to highlight the importance of mediation and balance. Considering we live in an often overly connected, notification popping age, this is unsurprising. But it’s actually quite difficult to put into practice, and moreover, it seems like there’s no ‘one size fits all’ healthy framework to go by. Being enmeshed in online communities is great for motivation in a lot of ways, but when do positive connections and conversations tip into blocking ones? When do algorithms and social media exposure start to limit the creative ideas that pop into your head, based on the stuff you’re seeing most or receiving the best feedback for? Anne-Dauphine shared that for her, muting everyone aside from close friends on social media has become her go-to. “I don’t suffer from ‘comparisonitis’ as much as before, and the mind clutter is drastically reduced!”, she says, “and since I’m still following, I can always check anyone whenever I feel the need to.”

The crux of it all seemed to be that each designer felt, in whatever form worked for them, that cultivating practices to allow for generative rather than stifling connection was key to unlocking their confidence, focus, humility and authenticity. Paris-based Korean Graphic and Type Designer Bouk Ra, for example, shared a great perspective on this. As he explains, “I try to be connected with various designers, finding and looking at their creations and feeling what they express. I compare them with my works, but no matter how good their design is, I don’t feel discouraged. I believe there is potential in things I have not yet discovered in me. I always try to find that—to express it through my typefaces—fail, analyse, and improve.”

Type by Doménico Barreto

The boundary Bouk speaks of is a crucial one to learn and hold: that the quality of others’ work doesn’t detract from that of your own. It’s important because, when you’re freelance, what you’re offering the world and what you get in return stems from what you believe you can do, and so holding that value dear is intrinsic to being able to keep at it. As Bouk continues—accentuating the importance of getting to know your own character and what you can offer, both in a creative sense, but also as someone running a business with their own way of communicating with clients—”I think it’s important to develop your own personality, not only design skills, and to have a belief that you can create something more original than anyone else.” All this being said, the role of community really does all come down to your individual nature: does consistent connection with others aid you in your energy and creativity, or does it bog you down? It’s a question each individual can only answer by looking within themselves, but it does bring us round nicely to the next big take-away our designers came out with.

Type by freelance type designer Anna-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess)
Type by Anne-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess)

Be Intentional With (Almost) Everything.

Whether it’s your work space, your routine, where you get your inspiration or how you choose to communicate with clients, all of our designers had something to say about taking care with the details, and being intentional in your approach. Following on from taking a considered approach to engaging with social media, Jo Malinis, an independent graphic and type designer from the Philippines, notes the importance of being mindful about the sources you go to for inspiration. “Expose yourself to the work of other people outside of your field,” she says, “As much as I love looking at fellow graphic or type designer’s works, I get more motivated and inspired whenever I read profiles about different creatives, or see photographs, or watch someone cook.” On a similar note, Jazlyn advises, “Be aware of any details in your life when you are doing freelance—it could give you a lot of inspiration. And be confident to communicate with different freelancers; sharing ideas or using your strengths to work together.”

One of the joys of being a freelancer, and probably one of the most appealing parts of going freelance, is your opportunity for flexibility and the ability to set the when and where of your schedule on your own terms. For everyone we interviewed, this seemed to be up there as one of the most joyful aspects of working solo. Jazlyn cites working on her balcony or at the park in Autumn—how listening to jazz and watching the sunset sparks inspiration and a sense of calm—while Doménico says he enjoys long, focussed work sessions, accompanied by music.

Freelance Type Designer Jo Malinis' desk setup
Jo Malinis’ Desk Setup

Anne-Dauphine, on the other hand, highlights how great it can be to experiment with and adopt new work methods, as opposed to conforming to the settings a bigger studio or agency might invite. “I have recently been completely obsessed by the process Grimes used when making her excellent record, Visions, locking herself in her room and working for hours on end,” she says. “I am someone that just plain immensely enjoys being busy and working, creating. The pandemic has had the positive aspect of unlocking part of my full work ethic potential for me; I’m very thankful for that. When I get into a state of flow, hours can pass by without me noticing!”

However, while getting lost in the flow of your work is a beautiful thing, Jo was keen to highlight that carving out segments of time for yourself away from your desk is also massively important. “My joy comes from the little things like getting tea or coffee, talking to my friends online, and reading manga,” she says. “I find that the time I spend for myself to rest has greatly contributed to my creative process by allowing my mind and body to recharge. It’s still a hard thing to do sometimes, especially when there are a lot of deadlines, but I try my best to take care of myself this way.” For Jo, this might look like allowing herself time to hang out with family and play with her puppy before she starts work, or being intentional about getting up and away from her desk throughout the day, but the task for anyone looking at going freelance is to understand what that looks like for you, and allocate that time for yourself. Rest and pause is literally what allows your creative brain to recharge!

Type by freelance type designer Anne-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess)
Type by Anne-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess)

While the importance of being mindful and deliberate about the day to day came up time and time again, it also became apparent that it’s equally valuable, deadlines permitting, to free yourself from always chasing after the end product; the overwhelming sentiment, at least creatively, being to allow yourself to submit to the process, enjoy the nuts and bolts, and let your typefaces take on their own unique character.

Insights & Tips For Freelance Type Designers

Let’s not forget, when you’re a freelancer, you’re not just a creative. You’re running a business, and alongside personal and creative strategies, practical, organisational, time management and business skills have to be put in place. So lastly, here’s the breakdown of the practical tips and insights you can apply as you set out building your freelance career…

Get fierce with your social media. One of the main things our designers suggested was investing time to figure out how to show your work off best on social media. While this might sound obvious, just portioning out some of your day to planning posts or studying feeds you like can make a major difference in cultivating a strong online presence. And, it can open up lots of fun collaboration opportunities and connect you with other likeminded people, who, hopefully, will help support and uplift your work.

Type by Freelance Type Designer Bouk Ra
Type by Bouk Ra
Type by freelance type designer Anne-Dauphine Borione
Type by Anna-Dauphine Borione (Daytona Mess)

Set your type apart from the crowd. Bouk calls this giving your typefaces a character or soul, and seeing yourself as a director, whereas Doménico suggests that it may be easier to get your work noticed as a freelancer if you sway away from more repetitive, readily available styles—like Helvetica-esque typefaces and other classic sans serifs—and instead opt for creating designs which offer something different and more memorable. Whatever your approach, create work you can stick by with conviction and faith, and commit to whatever you’re putting out there.

Log all your ideas, and keep inspiration sources fresh. While Doménico suggests “finding uncommon sources of inspiration, like old books of typography or old movie posters” to keep your ideas fresh, Jo says to “be open to learning, sketch whatever idea comes to mind, and don’t be afraid to ask for other people’s critique.” The main thing is to keep a bank of your ideas so you can have them on hand for both clients and personal projects. You never know when a kernel of an idea could grow into something bigger.

Tenebras Typeface by Doménico Barreto
Tenebras Typeface by Doménico Barreto

Manage your time & get organised. Lastly, and this came up a lot, Jo highlights you need to be able to view your work not only through a creative lens, but also from the perspective of a business owner. All of our designers highlighted how important it is not to look over time management and organisational skills, and suggested finding and implementing systems that work for you. “You need to be ready for different scenarios, like not having clients in a month, or having too much going on in one day,” Doménico says, while Anne-Dauphine advises, “be prepared, be fearless, be daring. And be organised. So overlooked.”

“It’s going to be hell on earth at first, but extremely rewarding,” Anne-Dauphine adds. “I’m living my dream job, after studying my dream studies, and I couldn’t be happier.” Thank you so much to Jo, Anne-Dauphine, Doménico, Bouk and Jazlyn for sharing their insights with us. Doménico and Jo also shared that they’re set to release new typefaces this year—so keep your eyes peeled!